Monday, December 14, 2009

An Epic Food Night, part 1

Every Food Night is an occasion we look forward to with great anticipation. Of course they are all unique and fun and provide us with an opportunity to sample and discuss some really great wines. However, the Food Night that came together Saturday December 12th was completely off the charts. Epic, even. The food turned out great (after MUCH consternation about the leanness of the venison), and the wines were absolutely special. That's the only word I can come up with; special.

In today's post, I'm going to focus on the wines of Food Night. I've been stressing out about how I can possibly organize and detail what transpired at Food Night in some logical and (somewhat) succinct manner. I thought about just beginning at the beginning, cranking out around nine thousand words, and then twenty eight days later I'd be done with that post, and you'd spend your entire day reading a rambling, unorganized, meandering diatribe that would probably end up being the last Food Night post you ever read. And we certainly don't want that. You deserve something a little more focused and entertaining as you sip your morning coffee.* I'll absolutely throw out some photos (above) of the food that I made to hopefully wet your appetite for the soon to follow food related posts. And heck, I'll list out the full menu too. But I really think you will be thankful for this more organized approach. Really. Trust me. I've been doing this for a week now. I know what I'm doing.**

* I'm sure that's how you start your day, right? Shower, drive to work, coffee, check for Food Night updates. And Food Night has no problem playing second fiddle to your morning coffee, or other bevie of choice. Clearly, that is the priority.

** I do not have a clue what I'm doing.

Enough preamble. Let's get started with the menu and wine list from Food Night!

avocado, pickled tomato, arbequina olive oil, Maldon sea salt

Crudo Duo
zucchini, Hawaiian striped marlin

Fresh Pasta
reduced stock, tarragon, parmigiano-reggiano, black truffle

Braised Venison
fingerling potato confit, pickled red onion, meyer lemon sour cream

When we discussed the wine possibilities for the evening, lots of us focused on Northern Rhone, figuring the funky, gamey nature of a lot of those Syrahs would play well with the venison. And in general, at least from my recollection*, we do tend to have more European wines at Food Night because that is where the preferences of some of the participants lie. Not so, this time. Out of the ten (that is not a misprint.... 10) wines we sampled, six were domestic, like this gem...

*See, this is a huge reason why I wanted to start the blog; to keep a tally on exactly what we've tried. I'm going to even start a running post or document of some kind here to keep track of the counts for various countries. I know, I think it's going to be awesome too! Moving on to the wines of the evening....

United States
Calera, Rosé of Pinot Noir

Calera, Jensen Pinot Noir

Calera, Selleck Pinot Noir

Rock, Hudson Vineyard, Carneros Syrah*

Joseph Phelps, Le Mistral (Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah), Monterey*

Freemark Abbey, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley*

Clos Mogador, Priorat*

Carruades de Lafite, Bordeaux (Pauillac)*

Chateau De Fieuzal, Bordeaux (Pessac-Leognan)*

Joseph Drouhin, Clos des Mouche (Cote de Beaune, Burgundy)*

The *'s in the above wine list indicate that these wines were tried blind. We've probably had a dozen undocumented Food Nights and amazingly this was the first time we'd tried anything blind. As we learned from experience working at Haskell's, there is no better wine education than to taste good bottles blind in a setting with someone who really knows wine. Blind, as in, a glass of wine is handed to you, and without having any idea what it is you have to name the country of origin, the varietal(s), and the vintage. This really doesn't work terribly well with say $8 wine. But last night, Alex* really went crazy and brought some astounding wines for everyone to try blind. The results, were impossibly cool.

*I should really work on a post that introduces you to the "players" at Food Night. Until then, what you need to know is that Alex is the C.W.O. of Food Night. Chief Wine Officer. Alex knows his wine, and actually he knows YOUR wine too, and he's disarmingly unpretentious about the whole thing. Honestly, the reason why the results of this maiden Food Night Blind Tasting were so cool was because Alex has taught all of us a ton about wine by sharing his knowledge and his bottles.

Let's talk about the bottles we tasted blind.

Blind Bottle #1

Everyone initially thought it was grenache, or certainly Spanish wine of some kind. But it had low tannins, and lofty jammy fruit, and a really cool nose. I thought it lacked that white pepper sort of thing that I get out of most grenache, so my final guess was 2004 California Syrah. Tyler and Tom both went with Spanish grenache, but the year they guessed escapes me. I know, huge error on my part, I hope you'll still be able to sleep tonight.

The Bottle; 2003 Joseph Phelps Le Mistral . 57% Syrah, 36% Grenache, the rest small amounts of other varietals. So, I kind of, um well, I kind of nailed this one. Tyler and Tom also were also basically right on here as well. Just not as right as, you know, me.

Blind Bottle #2
I took one whiff and said "This is Burgundy". But before you roll your eyes at the author, know that while Tom and Tyler were in agreement with me, they actually whittled it down to the exact freaking town in Burgundy where the wine came from. You might ask, how is this possible?! How can so much wine knowledge be concentrated in so few people?! Maybe they born with it? Maybe it's Maybelline?*

* Answer; No. It is not Maybelline. Don't ask me where I came up with that one either. I remember commercial tag lines. What can I say. I'm every every advertising big-shot's wet dream. The answer is actually that we've all tried quite a few bottles of wine, and if you are interested in wine like we are, you learn a few things along the way. And actually, the better quality the wine, the easier it is to pick out what it is (and, what it ISN'T) blind. Of course there are exceptions, and books are probably written about this, so, I digress.

Back to Blind Bottle #2, Tom said it was a 2005 Cotes de Beaune (pronounced "bone"), while Tyler said 2005 Pommard or Volnay (which are both in the Cotes de Beaune). I had no idea what plot of land it was from, other than I was sure it was Burgundy, and was pretty sure it was 2005. This would probably be a good time to state the obvious and say that Alex, Tyler and Tom are all very, VERY well schooled in French wine country knowledge. Not only do they know the aromas, the tastes, the textures, they know the towns, where they are, what they are near, how big and/or famous and/or reputable the towns are, etc. Perhaps you think possessing this knowledge is even more impressive than recalling the tag line from a make-up commercial. And I would tend to agree with you.

Anyway, while we discussed the possibilities for this bottle, I was asking the guys questions about were exactly the town of Beaune was located in the Burgundy region of France, culminating in this classic, age old question; "How long is Beaune?". Now, the fellas diligently did their best using wine glasses, knives and other objects on the table to illustrate to me how things were situated in Beaune. But as the follow up questions pertaining to the "length of Beaune" kept spewing forth, one guest finally broke down and said what needed to be said. (And there was much laughter.)

The Bottle; 2005 Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouche, Cotes de Beaune, Burgundy.

Blind Bottle #3
One of the most complex, most aromatically astounding wines I've ever tried. The only other bottle in my tasting history I can compare it to from an aromatic standpoint is the 2002 Chateau Margaux. I know. Heady stuff. But I'm not kidding. In the end, ALL of us guessed Priorat, and Tyler even nailed the varietals, cabernet and grenache! I don't think I can even describe the utter ridiculousness of how good this wine was, so let's just reveal the bottle.

The Bottle; 2005 Clos Mogador, Priorat.

Blind Bottle #4
It is said the the Pauillac region of Bordeax produces wines that have a lot of "pencil lead" or "graphite" characteristics about them. This wine immediately exhibited those characteristics, so all of us said Bordeaux. Tyler even went so far as to say that the wine tasted almost like (ahem) "sucking on a pencil", in a good way of course. Not the... nevermind.

The Bottle; 2003 Carruades de Lafite . This wine is the "second label" of Lafite Rothschild, which is one of the five First Growth Bordeaux chateaus. This means that the juice in this bottle was the stuff that wasn't quite good enough to go into the chateau's best label, which is one of the five best Bordeauxs in France. An awesome bottle to add to our tasting rolodex.

So yeah. Not a shabby little lineup of blind wines. And how about your Food Night crew absolutely crushing and nailing every single bottle?! I told you the results were impossibly cool. And we haven't even talked about the other six wines yet! Relax, I'll spare you all the gory details, but I do want to say a couple words about Calera wines. One of the best wines of the night was the Calera Rosé. This $18 Rosé is fairly available here in the Twin Cities, and is hands down the best Rosé any of us have ever had by a long shot. It has a gorgeous color, something darker than usual, yet still very elegant. I'd love to show you the color, but, um, yeah, I was a little tardy with the camera as you can see. My bad (tapping my chest). It is soft and round yet still vibrant and fresh, with lively acidity, and is a breeze to pair with food (it was absolutely phenomenal with the somewhat bold flavors of the Crudo, pictured here). Really amazing stuff for under $20. Oh, and anyone who tells you that you should only drink Rosé in the summer is cracked. Last I checked, there was no season on good wine.

And while we are talking about Calera, I may as well tell you that you could probably go ahead and call Calera the Official Winery of Food Night. We've intentionally not opened bottles of Calera Pinot Noir next to other VERY expensive high end bottles because Calera so thoroughly destroys damn near everything else that is opened along side of it. It's like the mercy rule in Little League. But once you smell a Calera Pinot Noir, you'll know. As I sat at my kitchen table writing the previous post, two bottles of Calera were decanting next to me. Their singular perfume literally filled the air around me, which only served to heighten the anticipation for that evening's Food Night. With Calera wines, it doesn't matter what year, what vineyard site, what score some wine magazine or website gave it, if it was raining acid rain in buckets at harvest... whatever. Josh Jensen makes brilliant wine. Every year. Period.

If only everything in life was so predictable, right? One thing I can predict, are posts about the actual food we had at Food Night (imagine that!). Coming shortly, to a computer near you.

One last wine note, I promise. The 2005 Chateau De Fieuzal Bordeaux. Robert Parker gave it a somewhat modest 90 points, but his description of the wine was too tempting to pass up; smoke, black truffles, crushed rock (?), fresh mushrooms and cassis. And it was tremendous, but we got more dried fruits out of it than earthy notes. And actually, Parker's review of the wine a year before he wrote the above tasting notes indicated notes of plum and fig, which was totally on the mark with what we experienced. Note that this wine is quite closed down, and we actually opened it the night before Food Night, poured it into a decanter, poured it back into the bottle and then let is sit overnight. Then about 6 hours before we drank it, I poured it back and fourth from decanter to bottle a few more times, and let it sit in the decanter for the remaining time before consumption. I did sneak a sample of it before decanting, and the acids were sky high, but calmed down after the decanting process. This stuff can be had for under $50 as well, and is a great bargain in my opinion at that price.

Finally, I have to give an e-shoutout to Alex. The reason these Food Nights are so over the top is because of the wines. When you think about it, that only makes sense. I'm just some dork with an electric stove and a very narrow, modest culinary skillset. On the other hand, these wines we get to drink out of Alex's stash are crafted by truly brilliant winemakers from grapes grown on the best terriors in the world. I say that literally and without exaggeration.

So on behalf of Tyler and Tom, thanks Alex - you really outdid yourself this time.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic write-up, Erikissimo.

    It hurts me that I couldn't attend. I promise to make myself more available in the future!